Las Vegas…it’s been called Disneyland for adults. Where else can you ride a roller coaster overlooking the strip, see an erotic Cirque du Soleil performance, and the average person can dance on a nightclub tabletop while paparazzi snap your photo and post it on Internet sites?
Although Las Vegas could only be created in the United States, there’s an Easterly breeze blowing through this desert oasis. Like most things in "sin city," it’s all about money. The Venetian (www.venetian.com) says 80% of their “whales” (high rollers) are Asian. “The vast majority of our international gaming market is comprised of guests who reside in the Far East – primarily Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Korea,“ says Greg Shulman, Vice President of International Marketing for MGM MIRAGE (www.mirage.com).
According to the OTTI, Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, Vegas has half a million visitors from Asian countries but many experts believe the number is probably much higher. "Many of our Asian customers stop in San Francisco or Vancouver first so it's tough to track them," says Rafael Villanueva, Director of International Sales, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, LVCVA, (www.visitlasvegas.com). In addition, it’s optional for planes to ask passengers to fill out surveys on their country of origin.
“Historically international travelers have accounted for about 13 percent of our business, says Kristopher Tibbs, Senior Research Analyst, LVCVA. Last year, South Korea, China and Hong Kong topped the list of Asian visitors. LVCVA even has offices in Japan, China and Korea, mainly to arrange group travel. “Our goal is to increase international visitation by 15% and of course Asia and especially China is on our radar screen. Our overall goal is to reach 43 million plus visitors annually by the end of the decade and there are huge growth opportunities in Asia,” says Tibbs. Korea is currently the only Asian country with a non-stop flight to Las Vegas but the McCarran International Airport is currently negotiating to add more terminals for Asian flights, according to Chris Jones, spokesperson.
“The number of Asian visitors to Vegas goes through cycles,” says David G. Schwartz, Director, Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (http://gaming.unlv.edu). “At one point it was the Japanese, then Hong Kong and Taiwan. Thanks to a growing middle class and more lenient visa laws, the Chinese are now traveling in record numbers and Vegas is a top destination.”
To attract Asian visitors, Vegas is rolling out the red carpet with special services, feng shui considerations and bilingual experts on staff. Tourism authorities want to makes sure the Chinese feel welcome and “…we have a big learning curve,” admits Villanueva. “What works in America doesn’t always translate overseas.” The LVCVA has a free diversity handbook, a guide welcoming minorities to Las Vegas. “It’s a resource to provide information for American Indians, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black/African-American, Hispanic/Latino and Americans with disabilities,” says Alicia Malone, LVCVA spokesperson. “It gives cultural and organizational information, an ethnic dining guide, a historical timeline of notable ethnic celebrities who have contributed to Las Vegas, and information about the arts and museums.”
Vegas has always catered to Asian tourists but it has gotten more sophisticated in recent years, according to Schwartz. “The difference is that Vegas leaders are listening more and getting Asian experts in on the ground floor. Hotels now have people in their organizations sensitive to Asian sensibilities and now it’s more visible.”
For instance many hotel elevators don’t have a button for the 4th floor because that number is considered unlucky in many Asian cultures and they play up the number 8, which is linked to prosperity in the East. The Wynn Las Vegas Resort (www.wynnlasvegas.com) has a restaurant called Red 8, a jackpot for Asians who also consider the color red good fortune and they recently added an Asian gambling pit 8. “You see the number 8 turning up a lot,” says Schwartz. “Wynn went out of its way to appeal to Asian visitors,” observes Schwartz, who credits that attention to one of the Resort’s principal backers, Kazu Okada, who has a restaurant named after him at the hotel. “The Wynn Resort has an international flavor with Eastern-inspired art throughout the grounds. Lions guarding the hotel entrance are exact replicas of two lions in front of the Bank of Shanghai. It would be like Americans seeing a replica of the Washington monument overseas; they want Asians to feel at home,” Schwartz comments. “Steve Wynn jokes that the East is becoming so powerful that soon his corporation will be known as an Asian company with a location in Las Vegas.”
The Venetian has built a VIP lounge filled with Asian artwork. TVs are tuned to Chinese stations, newspapers have Chinese characters, and a Shiatsu masseuse is on call to work out the kinks in gambler’s necks and shoulders. Since many Asian gamblers prefer tea to alcohol, the Venetian serves hot beverages that can be as expensive and complex as fine wines. “Tea Masters,” who undergo a seven-year program in China, are becoming as common as scantily clad waitresses who take drink orders. Wheeling a traditional teak cart to the tables, they serve a range of teas that can be compared to fine wine in price, complexity and even mind-altering effects. One cup of tea can have the same amount of caffeine as 6 cups of coffee and experts claim strong tea can make you feel drunk. At least 20 varieties of teas are offered to gamblers with the most expensive costing a whopping $260 dollars an ounce. Tea Masters re-use the same clay pot because they believe the residue that develops over the years enhances the flavor. The varieties range from flowers that bloom in boiling water to teas with a bittersweet chocolate taste. While flowing water is believed to be good feng shui, tea masters avoid having the nozzle face the player…it’s considered bad luck.
The new Orchid restaurant at the Venetian offers exotic Asian delicacies such as shark fin and bird’s nest soups, and abalone. Chef Simon To is an inductee and Honorary Chairman of the exclusive Les Amis d’Escoffier Society of China. The new Palazzo Resort has an extensive noodle bar called Jade next to the gaming tables so high rollers don’t have to go far for Asian food. “Noodle bars are the Caucasian equivalent of comfort food,” says Schwartz. “Instead of a corn beef and rye sandwich at midnight during an all-night poker game, the Chinese like a big bowl of noodles.”
In addition to their food preferences, Asians have gaming favorites according to Schwartz’s research. “Generally they like card games and baccarat. They don’t like dice games. When I asked people in Macau why they don’t play craps they sneered, they consider it cheap.” Schwartz says people gamble in India but it’s not as popular as in other Asian countries. “The middle-eastern high rollers were fixtures in Vegas during the 70’s and 80’s because there are few casinos in Arab countries,” says Schwartz. “According to the Koran, gambling is the handiwork of Satan.” While he says poker is popular with Vietnamese, “…the Japanese don’t like to play the card game because you can look like a coward if you don’t call a bluff and they don’t want to `lose face.’“
Asian Americans are also a growing market for Las Vegas. The Gaming Institute’s research indicates that Asian immigrants gamble whether they are well off or not. “Vegas doesn’t see many people from Cambodia and Vietnam, but a lot of Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants visit,” says Schwartz. He conjectures that Asian immigrants are big gamblers because they are already risk takers. “If you took the huge leap of faith to leave your country, you have a risk-seeking personality,” he believes.
Alan Chen, whose father developed Las Vegas Chinatown, agrees. “My father took a big chance coming to the U.S.,” says Chen, “So he encouraged me to take risks, whether at the gambling table or starting a business.” Chen owns the Emperor’s Table restaurant in Chinatown Plaza. The only master-planned Chinatown in the U.S, Chinatown Plaza (www.lvchinatown.com) is a shopping center that’s also a small cultural exhibit for all Asian cultures.
Signs, scattered throughout the complex, contain factual information about Far East art and history. It’s the only place in Nevada to find a Chinese bookstore and it has the largest Asian supermarket in the city, as well as a Chinese herb shop and jade store. “Most Chinatowns just sprang up from having a big population of Asians,” says Chen. “My father James came here 15 years ago and realized there was very little Chinese food off the strip, so he called his friends from high school in Taiwan and they opened restaurants. When we started, people were afraid of authentic food, but now every kind of Asian restaurant is popular. We have Cantonese, Hong Kong, Vietnamese, Filipino, Szechwan, Shanghai, and recently Korean. They are increasingly moving here from southern California and opening up barbeque grills.”
Vegas has come a long way in comprehending the Asian mindset. When the MGM Grand opened, the owners thought it would be the ultimate in kitsch to have guests walk through the mouth of a lion, replicating the MGM movie logo. After complaints from Asians who said walking into a lion’s mouth was akin to losing money, they moved the entrance to a more feng shui friendly location and constructed a traditional door. Now the local newspaper, The Review Journal, has an entire section dedicated to Asian food and nightlife.
“The Bellagio (www.bellagio.com) caters to its Asian tourists with fan tan and pachinko games,” says Cynthia Robins, a freelance writer/jewelry designer who relocated from San Francisco to Vegas. Many of the most popular nightclubs are Asian inspired; Tao, where food is served family style and celebrities are spotted signing autographs while sipping taotinis, the Palms Little Buddha, a replica of the famed Buddha Bar in Paris, and Shintaro at Bellagio, which critics are calling “out of this world,” due in part to a sushi bar with a dramatic, kaleidoscopic display of live jellyfish. The largest Benihana in the United States is located in the Las Vegas Hilton (www.lvhilton.com) and the hotel’s Benihana Village has a Noodle Bar called 888.
Vegas is also popular with Hawaiians since gambling is not allowed on the Islands. Evonne Wong, Owner of Events by Evonne, in Maui, visits Vegas three to four times a year. “I love going to Vegas because there's so much to do there... you can gamble, watch a show, eat and shop. There's literally everything for everyone. It seems like Vegas used to be more family-oriented, but during my last trip everything was very chic and upscale... from the restaurants to the clubs to the shops.” She prefers hotels and casinos that offer Pan-Asian cuisine. “I don't really gamble all that much, but whenever I see a cool Black Jack table or Roulette table, I’ll play a few hands.”
Bob Yoshida, with Pacific Capital Lending, in Orange County, California, has numerous relatives in Hawaii who love Vegas. “They all stay at the California Hotel (www.thecal.com) downtown because they cater to Hawaiians with restaurants like Dave’s Aloha Grill,” he says. Yoshida, a third generation American who calls himself a banana, yellow on the outside and white on the inside, says he practically grew up in Circus Circus, a casino with a special section just for kids. “My dad would give me a roll of quarters and tell me he’d be back to get me for dinner. I loved it and couldn’t wait until I was old enough to gamble for real. Now I go to Vegas as often as I can. Gambling is in our blood. We’ll bet on anything. My father and his seven siblings live in the Los Angeles area and get together often to take a bus tour to Vegas. They only stay for 24 hours and it takes four and half hours to get there!”
If Asians can’t come to Vegas, Vegas is going to them. A few years ago, the Sands and Wynn Resorts opened large Las Vegas-style casinos in Macao, the former Portuguese colony that is the only place in China where gambling is legal. The $2.4 billion Venetian Macao is the largest single structure hotel in Asia and the second largest building in the world. Last year, Macao surpassed the Las Vegas Strip to become the world’s largest gambling center.
Instead of taking away business from Vegas, so far Macau has surprisingly helped the Strip. “Macau is getting China residents more familiar with casino gambling so they want to see where it all started…in Las Vegas,” says Schwartz. “After sampling a bit of Americana they want to visit the real thing,” agrees Villanueveo. Schwartz visited Macau and said the main differences he saw between the two tourist spots is the emphasis on gambling in Macau. “There are more big spenders and fewer players at slot machines,” he says. Incidentally, to win at the slots you need lucky 8’s not 7’s like in the U.S. One slot machine that’s popular in Macau is the hexbreaker. “It has symbols Americans consider bad luck like broken mirrors, sidewalk cracks and spilled salt,” says Schwartz. “When I told Asians this was unlucky they looked at me like I was crazy and said no it’s not.”
What they considered unlucky was a book Schwartz was carrying. “I had to check my novel at the casino door because books are considered unlucky. In Chinese, the word sounds familiar to death.” Schwartz was also surprised to see waitresses who were carrying space-age looking tanks on their backs instead of drink trays. “I asked someone what the weird contraption was and they said it held hot tea.” The Vegas outlets in Macau are starting to introduce shows and high-end restaurants and it remains to be seen if they will be popular with this market.
Besides gambling, Asians believe in spending their money on lavish weddings and Las Vegas is the most popular spot in the world to get hitched. Wedding planners are betting 8-8-08 may become the busiest date to tie the knot. The day before, February 7, is Chinese New Year. Many of the holiday’s festivities are free…the only sure way to be a winner in Las Vegas.
Getting there: If you like to support Asian businesses, consider booking your flight to Vegas on Aloha airlines (www.alohaairlines.com). It began after World War II when mainland airlines would not hire Hawaiian pilots and mechanics. Using money invested by the local community, Ruddy Teng hired his friends to start Aloha Airlines and Vegas is one of their busiest locations.
For the latest story by Rich Carlson on Ashland, Oregon, go to www.rlxmag.com
then click on latest issue, and at the bottom of the page click on "jump to" and type in page 86 for the "Brotherly Bonding in Ashland., Oregon." We fish for steelhead, golf, go wine tasting, drink local beer, eat at the famous Dragonfly Restaurant, get some culture at the cabaret, and relive our youth.
Or if it's easier just read the entire story below.
Brohters Getaway Roadtrip to Ashland, Oregon
steelhead fishing on the Rogue River
Varsity Theater in Ashland, Oregon
Brotherly Bonding in Ashland, Oregon
RELAX Magazine Nov/Dec 2006
Bob checking the Dragonfly Restaurant Menu
BROTHERLY BONDING IN ASHLAND, OREGON
What do you do when your only brother lives at the opposite end of the west coast and talking on the phone just isn’t cracking it.Well you both hop in your cars, and drive towards each other and where you meet, you stay. Lucky for us it turned out to be Ashland, Oregon.Know mostly for the nearly ten month Shakespeare Festival held every year, we had other thoughts on our minds, like fishing, golf and wine tasting, and maybe some culture of a different venue.
My brother Bob and I used to see each other quite often when my Ma was still alive.Bob would come to Monterey where she lived in a retirement community four or five times a year and The Brothers Getaway to ASHLAND
we’d hang out and catch up.But once Ma passed on, our visits became less frequent.We were now orphans in greater need of brotherly bonding.
As it turns out, Ashland made the perfect rendezvous for us. We’d been to Ashland three years ago just to hang out and have fun, but really didn’t get the feel of the community. So this time we contacted the visitor’s bureau to make our lives easier.They had great suggestions for where to golf, how to get the most out of the winery experience, some great suggestions on dining, and other than Shakespeare, how we might get some culture.
We got in town just in time to get in nine holes of golf at the local muni course, Oak Knoll Golf Course.It’s a really fun nine hole that you play twice if you need the full 18 in, only the second time you hit from a different set of tee boxes. Rates are really reasonable for folks over 50 and we hooked up with a local who gave us tips on the course layout and where to shoot for the pin when it was beyond our sight. Nine was enough for us, Bob won if anyone is keeping score (I am)so we gathered our clubs and headed downtown to the tallest building in town, the Ashland Springs Hotel.What a great place to stay, right in the heart of town, remolded a few years back, it still has the character of what must have been old Ashland.The lobby is a huge two story space with plantation fans slowing turning, and right next door is the restaurant called Ritz that even has on the street dining, so you can watch the locals and tourists walk through town while sipping our Pinot Noir and your Negroni(you guess who had what).
When Bob and I get together, we like to pick up snacks and local beer and wine so we can hang out in the room and catch up.Ashland has one of the first co-op grocery stores and it’s a sure stop on your agenda,It’s located in the historic Railroad district a couple blocks off the main drag and they have everything you need for snacking, drinking, or even putting together an entire dinner from their deli section, which we did.Turns out we each get to sample things we normally wouldn’t prepare at home, and there’s even outside tables, so you could even do breakfast with a smoothie and espresso, lunch with a salad and sandwich and dinner with everything from pasta dishes to chicken cacciatore.You don’t need to be a member to shop at the Ashland Co-Op.Once back in the room, with the local Pinot Noir from the WillametteValley, beer from Bend, Oregon, we were set for the night.Although we did decide dessert would be nice, so we headed downstairs to the Ritz, sat outside in the balmy fall weather and watched locals.That’s a great pastime that we both rarely enjoy…Relaxing.
Once you get your car parked at the hotel (by the way, parking is included), you probably won’t need to it again until you are ready to leave.
Our second day was set up for wine tasting and the best way to taste wine is with Ashland Wine Tours.They have a small van that seats about 5 or 6 folks and take you to five wineries in about five hours, give you snacks along the way, provide a great lunch.The wineries vary from the Mom and Pop variety to the largest in the southern region of Oregon.Each one usually offers 6 to 8 samples (included in the tour package), and often you’ll meet the owner/winemaker.Many of the wines are only available at the winery or through their wine club subscription, where two bottles come delivered to your home every three months.Our group seemed to really know wine and were buying wine by the case.Many said they reminded them of small boutique wineries in France, which are apparently being gobbled up by the huge conglomerate wine producers of the world.And when you five hours are up, they take you back to your hotel so driving while drinking is not an issue.Southern Oregon and the RougeRiver area are becoming world famous for their wines and if you’re thinking of retiring to a small farm and becoming a gentleman vintner, be sure to have enough cash for the $250,000 per acre you’ll have to come up with.You should have been there five years ago when bargains still existed.
So back to the room, more snacking, more drinking, more talking about the good old times growing up in Sheffield Village with Ma and Pop, sailing, trips to the California State Fair, pop’s slide and movie nights, Ma’s Swedish sausage at Christmas, and a few tears.You never stop missing Ma and Pop.There are so many really fine restaurants in Ashland it’s difficult to narrow the field, and with the curtain going up every night at 8 pm for Shakespeare, the restaurants fill early, so reservations are a must if you plan on pursuing culture, but the good news is once7:30 hits, they all open up for the second seating. Call us crazy, but we really enjoyed the feeling of dining in France with the small tables outside on the street at the Ritz, so there we were again for dinner on our second evening, and we had to get up really early to go fishing on day three, so it all worked out fine.I don’t understand this notion of “getting up early to go fishing.”So when our guide James from AshlandCenter picked us up at the crack of dawn I asked him.What a surprise, he said “yeh, I kind of like going out a little later, the fish really don’t get hungry until 9 or so, but most of my clients like that early rise.”Mark these words “I am never getting up early again to go fishing.”James has been fishing the RougeRiver for over 15 years and he knows where and how to find the steelhead, our catch of the day.Brother Bob has been fly fishing for a few years now, and has tried on many occasions to catch a steelhead, but never even got a nibble, so he was pretty excited to get started on this expedition.I on the other hand am afraid of fish, slimy things that you have to grab and touch…clean em, cook em, and toss them on a dinner plate and I’m happy.But today we are doing catch and release.You know the thrill of victory and the agony of not catching a fish.James gave me a fly fishing lesson that lasted a couple of minutes…seemed pretty straight forward, put me in the bow of the boat (front for the uninitiated), and off we went in the steel machine without a motor.I can’t believe how much work and how important the guide plays in the game.He not only guides and drives the boat, he’s making sure Bob and I don’t cross our lines, he’s looking for the pockets and runs where he knows the steelhead are lurking, and he’s watching the floats on our lines so he knows when we have a bite.The idea is the float drops a inch or two and you’ve got a nibble, but the fish is so smart, it immediately recognizes that it’s fake fly and spits it out, so you have to snag it before reality sets in.Well I’m enjoying the hugely beautiful RougeRiver, with the changing fall colors, and occasionally watching my float.So every once in awhile, James yells out “PULL” which means jerk on the pole and snag the fish you moroon.This goes on for an hour to two and then Bob gets a strike (first to land, if you’re keeping score).James jumps off the boat, net in hand and grabs the steelhead.Bob is happy, he finally can tell his buddies that he caught a three foot steelhead (actual size maybe 22”).James takes out the fake fly and hops in the boat and off we go searching for another pocket.Then I get a hit and although not quite as big as Bob’s, still counts (if you’re keeping score).We each get a couple of trout, and then I get the last catch of the day, a feisty little steelhead that bends my pole like a piece of wet spaghetti, takes and runs the line out fifty yards or so, and after ten minutes of this, James nets it.Final score, Bob 1, Rich 2, trout don’t count when you land steelhead. (Score is tied, Bob wins golf, Rich wins fishing, for those keeping score).We were done early enough for us to hunt down the famous goat cheese factory in Medford.Both being of the male species and refusing to ask for directions, it took us a lot longer to track it down than it should have, but boy was it worth it.The best spreadable Blue Cheese I’ve ever tasted.Already they’ve won tons of international awards and the tasting areas are enough to drive any cheese lover into heaven.That was well worth the effort, but we still haven’t experienced the “culture” aspect of our trip yet.
The tourist office suggested if Shakespeare was not on our radar screen we might like a Cabaret.So we booked two seats at the Oregon Cabaret Theater right around the corner from our hotel.And just next door to the Cabaret is a new restaurant called Dragonfly,asian and latin inspired, simple and understated, with dishes all foodies will remember.It’s run by a husband and wife who were in the restaurant business in San Diego, came to Ashland for a visit and never left.What a meal!We started with a salad that looked like a work of art, beads of sour cream carved over argola lettuce, raw tuna and aioli sauce.It just got better after that.The chef came out and asked us if we might like to try his flaming ice cream banana dish.We couldn’t refuse an offer like that so he invited us into the kitchen to watch him make it.What a great dining experience then it was off the the Cabaret, a former church that now is a90 seat emporium that also serves dinner.The performance was really fun and lively although my Bob (did I mention that he’s my older brother) couldn’t make it thru the second act so for those keeping score, I WON.
Really though, we both won.We had a three relaxing days… warm weather, friendly folks, superb wine, beautiful scenery, food we’ll never forget, culture that was off the wall and funny, reliving old times and looking forward to the new.I think Ashland will appear on our radar screens sooner than we realize.